“A great friend has died, a loyal friend, our brother,” said Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, a country the United States has called Europe’s last dictatorship.
Another friend planning to attend is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said Chavez was a “martyr for having served his people and protected human and revolutionary values.”
Inspiration for the left
In Latin America, the sentiment that Chavez is a true torch in the revolutionary fight against imperialism and the elites is widespread among leftist movements, which are strong in several countries, and also among some governments.
Carlos Romero, a leading analyst here who has closely followed Chavez’s rule and also leftist politics in the region, said the emergence of Chavez came at the right time for leftists hungry for a hero.
“He revived the leftist movement in Latin America,” Romero said. “That’s most important. He took the ideological debate to the table.”
Chavez also managed to remain at center stage, not just for his allies but even his detractors. Colombia’s former president, Alvaro Uribe, who is from the far right and accused Chavez of aiding Colombia’s Marxist guerrillas, fumed publicly about Chavez during and after his presidency.
And Chile’s Sebastian Piñera, a conservative self-made billionaire whose government has a cordial relationship with Venezuela, said that while they had their differences, Chavez “was a man who was profoundly committed with the integration of Latin America.”
A lasting legacy?
As mourners on Thursday passed by Chavez’s coffin, saying a quick prayer or saluting, Venezuela’s foreign minister, Elias Jaua, said on state television that Chavez had left a potent international legacy. “We received from him a Venezuela respected around the world, a world where nearly every president is a friend of Venezuela,” he said.
Still, the words of a great orator, one who could inspire masses, did not always match what actually transpired across Latin America.
Chavez spoke of a continental integration, the dream of his idol, the 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar. But Venezuela’s closest allies remained small, poor countries, such as Nicaragua or Communist Cuba, a country Chavez revered and whose octogenarian leadership gave him inspiration. He also built close ties abroad with the likes of Syria and Moammar Gaddafi’s Libya.
Big, democratic Brazil and smaller fast-developing countries such as Uruguay, Chile and Peru were diplomatically close but followed an economic and political path far removed from Venezuela’s. Their governments are market-friendly and attuned to social needs, combining those philosophies to register fast economic growth and lift millions out of poverty. They also place an emphasis on good ties with the Obama administration.
Venezuela did lower poverty. But job creation came through inefficient, bloated and corrupt state agencies. The country is more reliant than ever on oil sales, imports more food than before and is buffeted by power failures and violent crime. Chavez also left it deeply polarized, with millions of people feeling left out by a system he claimed was all-inclusive.
Leaders in other countries were plainly aware of Venezuela’s deep problems, analysts say.
“You have to argue really whether Chavez succeeded in planting what he wanted for Latin America,” said Romero, the political analyst, who is skeptical of Chavez’s lasting influence. “I think he did not succeed because his leadership was too attached to his ideology.”
Nick Miroff contributed to this report.